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2 associates of Sudan’s premier contract virus

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CAIRO (AP) — Two of the Sudanese prime minister’s close associates and the president of the central bank have tested positive for the coronavirus, Sudan’s state news agency said Thursday.

SUNA news agency said Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s senior advisor, Al-Sheikh Khedr, and his office manager, Ali Bakheet, have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Central Bank of Sudan Gov. Mohamed Alfatih Zain Alabdeen has also tested positive for the virus, SUNA said.

Hamdok has tested negative for the virus, SUNA said, quoting a statement released by his Cabinet.

The new cases among Hamdok’s inner circle were discovered after a routine coronavirus test of the premier’s staff and associates, according to the report.

So far, Sudan has recorded more than 13,700 cases, including 837 deaths. The actual COVID-19 tally is believed to be higher given the country’s limited testing.

Also on Thursday, Sudan’s largest political party announced its leader, Sadiq al-Mahdi, tested positive for the virus.

Al-Mahdi, head of the National Umma Party, had recently suffered from fatigue but is starting to recover, according to a statement posted on the party’s official Facebook page.

Al-Mahdi was the country’s last democratically elected premier who was overthrown in a 1989 Islamist-backed coup that brought longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir to power. Last year, the military forced al-Bashir to step down after sweeping protests rocked Sudan for months. A transitional government of generals and civilians has been in charge until elections are held.

The announcements Thursday came shortly after the World Health Organization said the COVID-19 pandemic has reached “an alarming juncture” in eastern Mediterranean countries, including Sudan.

Speaking at a virtual news conference in Cairo on Thursday, Rana Hajjeh, WHO director of program management, said eastern Mediterranean countries have recorded more than 3 million confirmed cases and over 75,000 deaths.

“Case numbers are expected to grow at an increasing rate during the winter season,” said Hajjeh.

The WHO’s eastern Mediterranean office covers 21 states and the Palestinian territories, with a total population of over 580 million. Like Europe, these countries are bracing for a tough winter season where health care systems are expected to grapple with the compounded burden of the seasonal flu.

“Our first and foremost line of defense in the battle against COVID-19 remains preventive public health and social measures,” said Hajjeh. She deplored the public negligence in wearing masks and social distancing in the region.

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